Even with all the support we get leading up to our babies' births, things can still go wrong. And even when they go "right" according to our health care providers, they can feel very "wrong" to us. Nothing can prepare couples adequately for the intensity, distress, confusion and out of control feelings of a traumatic birth experience, and even couples who have experienced a fairly "normal" birth can feel shocked, overwhelmed and powerless. A protracted labour, complicated birth, emergency caesarian, forceps delivery and/or severe vaginal tears are distressing to experience and to witness. Sadly there is very little organised post-birth psychological support for mothers, and even less for fathers.
If your birth experience was traumatic or upsetting for any reason, get help. Talk it out with your partner and any close friends or family members who will listen well and respond supportively. Traumatic memories have a greater impact because of the way they are stored in the brain. Talking about what happenned can "re-store" the memories. This is what "debriefing" helps with. Sharing your thoughts and feelings with others who have had a similar experience, or a trusted trained professional, also helps you to feel that you are not alone. It might be beneficial to join a group run by the early childhood centre or equivalent service in your area. Even if birth experiences is not one of the topics of discussion, you could request or recommend that this is included, and see how many others would like to discuss this as well. Perhaps you could organise your own informal support group.
If you find that yourself plagued by recurring flashbacks or nightmares, unable to sleep or feeling withdrawn or depressed, you might be experiencing some symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Information regarding PTSD can be found on the Internet. If this sounds like you, or someone you care about, talk to your GP, a counsellor, or psychologist who can help you manage your symptoms until you recover.
If the birth trauma resulted in the death of your infant, you will be thrown into an intense grief. Grieving can be an extremely lonely experience, even if you are sharing it with a partner. Grieving is a process that starts with shock and denial and then goes through phases of anger, sadness and depression. It is not so much a straight line progression as a case of backwards and forwards, up and down. Finding support, comfort and ways to express all the feelings of grief will eventually lead to some sort of acceptance and healing.
It is possible for people to get "stuck" in their grief, particulalry in the anger and depression which is why it's a good idea to get some professional help to help move through the stages and find relief from the emotional pain. Whilst we may feel like keeping it to ourselves, one of the most healing things we can do is express our grief to someone who cares. The links on this page may be a good start.